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Masterpiece Theatre: Breaking the Code [VHS] (1997)

Derek Jacobi , Alun Armstrong , Herbert Wise  |  NR |  VHS Tape
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Derek Jacobi, Alun Armstrong, Blake Ritson, William Mannering, Prunella Scales
  • Directors: Herbert Wise
  • Writers: Hugh Whitmore, Andrew Hodges
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Number of tapes: 1
  • Studio: PBS Video
  • VHS Release Date: October 16, 1997
  • Run Time: 90 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 6304361092
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,269 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Editorial Reviews

This is the story of mathematical genius Alan Turing, the man who designed the computer that cracked the German Enigma code and, it is argued, enabled the allies to win World War II. It's also the story of a tormented and truthful man whose admittance to homosexuality, at a time when it was illegal, presented problems for him, his family, his colleagues, and the State's preoccupation with National Security. Whether interpreting top-secret documents, refusing to marry the assistant who's in love with him, or facing his crumbling private life, Turing pulls no punches.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars heartbreaking and superbly executed. October 30, 2002
Format:VHS Tape|Verified Purchase
There are probably only a handful of actors alive as good as Derek Jacobi; this account of Alan Turing's life and disgrace in the eyes of the British secret service demonstrates why he's so good. The empathy and outrage the viewer feels on behalf of the embattled mathmetician finds its equal in the awe for his intellect that the solution of the enigma ciphers merits. Much like Prick Up Your Ears, this film shows up societal prejudice and how damaging it can be in the face of true creative genius.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Touching and Intelligent Story February 29, 2000
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape|Verified Purchase
I have just recently watched this video and found it to be an absolute delight! While several people fuss about the play not covering enough about Turing's theories, one needs to realize that it is a piece about the man, not his theories. The film version is somewhat different from the play version, which I was disappointed by. However, the performances are superb, all around great cast, but it is Derek Jacobi who gives such subtle depth and tremendous passion to this film. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys seeing an intelligent, meaningful piece about humanity.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Expected more out of it September 20, 2009
Format:VHS Tape|Verified Purchase
I first heard of "Breaking The Code" as a play, with the same actor, Derek Jacobi, in the PBS mini-series "The Machine That Changed The World" (from 1992). Part 1 of TMTCTW showed a couple excerpts of the play, and it gave me the impression that the story really got into Turing's theories about computing, explaining them in a way that people could understand. These ideas have validity even today. I looked forward to this same depth in the TV production, but was disappointed. The TV version was more of a "message film". It emphasized Turing's homosexuality, which no doubt is an important part of his life. No telling of it would be complete without talking about it, particularly how it caused conflict with his government, which motivated his suicide. His mastery of mathematics is used as a jumping off point to show what a brilliant man he was and what a shame it was for the British government to oppress him. A valid POV, but I wanted more. The video version of the TV production (perhaps it was just the PBS version) contained another disappointment (it was no fault of the seller). A key scene showing how Turing was inspired to come up with his first theory on computing was trimmed and spliced together such that the train of thought was entirely lost. I know because I saw the complete version of this scene in a clip on YouTube. It felt insulting. The message of the video editors was "You don't understand mathematics. So we're not going to bore you with this." It felt as though Turing's unique contributions to our world (aside from the fact that he helped the allies win WW II) were completely swept aside, and instead he was used as an archetype of the oppressed gay man. It reminded me that TV is often dumbed down. Still, it's a powerful story. The climactic, tragic ending makes it worth watching. Aside from it disappointing my expectations it's a good story from a generalist perspective.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Enigma of Breaking the Code April 23, 2011
Format:VHS Tape|Verified Purchase
"Breaking the Code" is a well acted and produced film based on the true story of a hero of the Second World War - Alan Turing. Some will only know the name Turing from the "Turing Test" which determines levels of artificial intelligence, but it was the work that Turing did in breaking the German "Enigma Code" that helped the Allies win the war. This film is couched in these events but more directly addresses the fact that Alan Turing was gay and that he was arrested, jailed and persecuted for his unashamed behavior. Despite being instrumental in saving the world from the ruthless Nazi world view of racial purity and social-cultural intolerance, once the war was over, the British government enacted a similar intolerance which ultimately ends in tragedy. Derek Jacobi delivers a masterful performance as Turing. It is a shame that this production is not available on DVD - I was thrilled to be able to find an excellent VHS copy!
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1.0 out of 5 stars What A Waste! August 23, 2013
Format:VHS Tape|Verified Purchase
I bought this tape from Amazon in the hopes that I would learn how the code was broken and how Alan Turing invented the digital age of the computer. Nothing doing. Instead I saw long scenes that should have been omitted or greatly abbreviated. Most likely the writers did not know how the code was broken and could not afford the technical scenery for their play. This tape was one of those that pop up as recommended by Amazon's computer. Every time I buy one of these turkeys I have been disappointed. Never again. The whole tape is just British jibber jabber. In fact the method of hs suicide is not even mentioned. See Apple as in Mac. Derek Jacobi, whom I liked in "Titanic: Blood and Steel," reprises his role of Claudius with his stammerings. Even though Turing did stammer, Jacobi's unconvincing attempt was not necessary to the plot as was not the phony nail-biting. These oddities brought a bad movie to the point of intolerability.

A much better documentary version from BBC, not a televised play, and aired on the Science Channel at least shows Turing's bombs and blonde goddesses, which are not even mentioned in this pile. The nasty treatment given him by the British system of injustice is delineated. Such miserable torture of such a hero from bigoted ingrates! I still want a biography that explains how the code was broken. Remember the Polish mathematicians had the basics of it figured out, and they are the ones who sent the enigma machine to England. Weeks later Hitler invaded Poland, and under the worst torture not one of them divulged what they knew.
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